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Australian, NZ shares falter as China worries hurt sentiment

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[BENGALURU] Australian shares extended sharp declines on Tuesday and hovered near-four month lows, as concerns over growth outlook for the country's largest trading partner China dented sentiment.

The S&P/ASX 200 index fell 1 per cent, or 59.2 points, to 6,041.1 at the close of trade, after losing 1.4 per cent on Monday.

While changes to economic fortunes in China tend to have major implications to commodity markets, expectations that Beijing would ramp up infrastructure spending to aid the economy provided a modest bounce to the Aussie dollar.

Healthcare stocks slid 4 per cent to their lowest since June, as the combination of a strengthening local unit and concerns of Chinese demand weighed.

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Index heavyweight CSL, whose second biggest market is China, dropped 4.5 per cent to its lowest in nearly four months, while Cochlear Ltd fell 5.2 per cent.

The beaten down financial sector added to the woes, with the sub-index closing 0.7 per cent lower.

Commonwealth Bank of Australia's losses mirrored the sector's, after the number one lender said it would refund fees taken out of dead client accounts and unwind a controversial system of charging customers commissions on financial products.

It added that the changes to its fee structures would cost the bank at least A$45 million ($31.8 million) a year.

The changes, sparked by damaging revelations from a powerful inquiry into financial sector misconduct, come during a time of upheaval for Australia's biggest financial institutions which are facing unprecedented scrutiny from the public, courts and lawmakers.

New Zealand's benchmark S&P/NZX 50 index stretched its run of losses to a seventh straight session, falling 0.8 per cent, or 77.12 points to close at 9,069.98.

The benchmark is already down 3 per cent for the month, but that comes after two straight months of gains.

Index heavyweight a2 Milk Company, which makes a majority of its income in China, fell 3.7 per cent.

REUTERS